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928 hits since 27 Mar 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

saltflats192928 Mar 2018 2:12 a.m. PST

When the squad was divided into a base of fire section and a manuever section, which one did the sergeant go with? Was it different by nation?

bullant28 Mar 2018 2:38 a.m. PST

This may help a little


Andy ONeill28 Mar 2018 3:23 a.m. PST

In practice, squads would rarely divide in combat.
All that stuff about gruppes splitting up with the mg34 in on and the other flanking…
That was not practical and was dropped in training.

Outside of elites, there just weren't enough leaders and enthusiastic riflemen to split a squad and it remain effective.
Studying real british units, Wigram found it was common to only have two effective leaders in a platoon and thus it would be split in two (rather than squads).
Even then it was common for the sergeant to lead a largely static firebase of brens whilst the officer went off with the effective riflemen out the platoon in order to assault.

Martin Rapier28 Mar 2018 3:43 a.m. PST

Only the US had the luxury of sergeants commanding squads:)

British Army: the corporal would lead the rifle group and the lance corporal the gun group.

German Army: the group leader led the MG group (and often spotted for it and even fired it), the assistant GL led the rifle group.

Russians: Never split their sections. Still don't unless they are Spetznaz or something.

As noted by Andy, unless they were super elite veterans, most mass conscript WW2 sections irl went around in a big clump following their leaders and all that splitting up stuff didn't happen. Or if it did it was because a few windy chaps decided to hide in a ditch.

I did come across a notable exception where the recce troop of 1st Airborne used Battle Drill fire & movement with split gun groups and rifle groups in Italy. But they were paras, and the CO was an ex-Guardsman who went on to command the parachute infantry training school and had very strong views on these things.

andysyk28 Mar 2018 5:43 a.m. PST

Although the extent to which Battle Drills were actually deployed or being capable of being used by some units is debatable they were retained in training. The British army Battle Drills in the early 80's were not really much different from those of 1940.
There are many accounts of Paras/commandos employing them yes but there are also accounts of other units using them. Slim mentions it in his memoirs and others state that they were no longer able to implement them in NWE late 44 on because a lack of training in replacements. Which indicates that they were basically using them prior to that.
Wigram suggested altering the Battle Drill due to his observations, but they continued as they were. I am quite sure that they would have been dropped or replaced with something else post war in they were considered useless.
Yes once you have taken casualties etc youre going to have to adapt. But the massed Bren group was actually an aspect of Battle Drill training anyway it was an option in the training. And what Wigram saw was an adaption of the Drill-One assault group and a fire group is basically Battle drill. The modern fire teams which have had a long evolution are still basically battle drill taught and utilised because it works. Wigrams report doesn't dismiss Battle Drill it says that it needs to be flexible and somewhat rethought.
Yes many British, German and US units were incapable of it at one stage or another but that was due to a lack of training and competent NCO,s. But many units did implement it until factors changed it.
Battle Drill is quite practical if it wasn't it wouldn't still exist.

Starfury Rider28 Mar 2018 11:08 a.m. PST

This is the US 'book' approach –


Mark 128 Mar 2018 11:57 a.m. PST

Most Italian infantry in WW2 operated with a very different small unit organization.

The platoon was divided into two squads ("squadra fusilieri"). The squads were generally about 18-20 men each. They were lead by a squad leader ("comandante di squadra") and an assistant squad leader ("vice comandante di squadra").

The squad was further divided into a rifle group ("gruppo fusilieri") and a machine-gun group ("gruppo mitragliatori"). The rifle group typically had 8 riflemen plus the assistant squad leader. The machine-gun group typically consisted of 2 LMG teams (each with gunner and 3 ammunition bearers with rifles), headed by the squad leader.

The info I have does not specify the ranks of the squad leader or assistant squad leader.

At least that was the doctrine. It seems, as with other armies, that it saw a fair bit of variety in practice.

Dividing a ~40 man platoon into two squads of ~20 men feels more like a WW1 organization than most other WW2 armies. It seems to have been rather unwieldy in action, and the AS42 divisional re-organization (AS = Africa Settentrionale = "North Africa") moved to more conventional platoons of 3 rifle squads each with 1 LMG. It is my understanding that this was done both for the improved matching to motorized transport (one squad per small truck) as well as for perceived platoon-level tactical handling.

(aka: Mk 1)

Andy ONeill28 Mar 2018 12:19 p.m. PST

My dad went through training twice in the uk. He then trained for the chindits. Was transferred out due to malaria. Later ran training himself.

I asked him specifically about splitting squads up.
He said no, they didn't train to do that.
Not in 40, 42, 44 or 45.

Navy Fower Wun Seven Inactive Member28 Mar 2018 12:27 p.m. PST

The 1943 British WD infantry training manual, 'Infantry Training' is available as a reprint, and basically outlines basic battle drill as taught at the section level, the fodder of initial infantry training, in the 1980's: Gun group and Rifle Group for section battle drills.

Where the confusion may enter is that most veterans recollect that in the field most scenarios demanded Platoon or even Company battle drills, where an entire section would be told off as the base of fire, and another entire section as the assault group. The fact that in the British army by 1944 most sections would be down to 6-8 men probably confused matters even more!

It would actually be very rare to employ section battle drills in a campaign perhaps only when mopping up individuals…

Osterreicher28 Mar 2018 4:21 p.m. PST

It would be interesting to know if the USMC used their sections/fire teams somewhat separate, especially the 1944 configuration. Does anyone have a view on this? There was a lot of fire power in each section, each had a BAR or belt fed MG, if I remember correctly in the 1944 TOE.

donlowry28 Mar 2018 4:31 p.m. PST

Well, first of all, it would have to be in an action that only involved the one section/squad, one would think.

Wolfhag28 Mar 2018 10:18 p.m. PST

I wonder if a very typical action in Western Europe with the Allies was when you take fire, hunker down and wait for the artillery. There is no need to risk causalities performing a fire and maneuver across open terrain. That would sound very good to me but not much fun in a wargame.

Towards the end of WWII, the US Marines developed what they called the "Corkscrew and Blowtorch" tactics and every Platoon had a Demo Corporal that made C4 charges. Each Squad had a demo man and a flamethrower attached to it. The "blowtorch" was the flamethrower and the corkscrew (for opening up) was the demo charge. This allowed a Squad to have 13 men with M1's and BAR's provide cover fire and security for the blow torch and corkscrew. The BAR's and rifles supplied the suppressive fire for the demo man and flamethrower to get close. The flamethrower hit the defensive position mostly to suppress the defenders to give the demo man a chance to place the charge. This was a developed tactic that Marines trained with and worked, especially on Okinawa.

In the 1970's we called it "Blind, Burn and Blast". Blind with smoke or WP, burn with the flamethrower and blast with the demo charge. Of course, that would not stop some crazy or desperate guy to brave the enemy fire by himself and deliver the demo charge or stop a few guys teaming up without officer or NCO supervision to attack a position by themselves.

However, I would not say squads "split up" doing this. From my experience in the infantry in the woods and swamps we always stayed within visual contact unless a part of the Platoon went on a patrol. Terrain always dictates tactics. Moving through the bush at night you'd be holding the backpack of the guy in front of you because you couldn't see him.

We did practice tactics when first making contact and it was always the front units in contact lay down suppressive fire and the rear unit maneuvered IF the suppressive fire was effective. If the suppressive fire was effective on both sides it turned into being pinned down and exchanging fire. The rear group might try to disengage to maneuver. If you didn't have a tactic or drill and just laid there shooting back you'd eventually be flanked or surrounded.

Another tactic practiced and used in combat was counter-ambush. On a patrol in a wooded area, jungle or swamp and you were ambushed the only real tactic was to assault into the ambush with rapid fire. Trying to pull back or advance would most likely put you into an L or horseshoe ambush or into a minefield. It worked in VN as I know a number of guys that survived like that. Taking cover and being suppressed in the kill zone of an ambush means certain death.

This is what wer were trained on:
PDF link

Thanks, Starfury.

I'll concur with Andy that splitting up squads (at least outside of visual and voice communication) was a bad idea in real life and in a game.


andysyk29 Mar 2018 1:14 a.m. PST

Training in Section attacks was carried out in the British Army in WWII. It was taught to instructors at Battle Schools who were then to return to unit and teach it there after 44 it was an integral part of Infantry training. BD was met with reluctance in some units as it went against the grain of traditionalists.
Yes some units failed to deliver proper Battle Drill training that was a unit negligence. It was noted as a major problem at the time.
It was policy to teach a Section attack it was never dropped.
That Battle Drill was not properly implemented in many units for a variety of reasons there is no doubt but it should have been taught.
And there are quite a few instances recorded by veterans of it being implemented.

Starfury Rider29 Mar 2018 3:32 a.m. PST

Re the USMC approach, I do have a CD-Rom of the 1945 Rifle Squad manual…somewhere. At the risk of going from memory the Squad was considered to be the lowest tactical element rather than the Fire Team. Each Fire Team had a Corporal and three men, one with a BAR; there were no M1919 LMGs allocated directly to the Rifle Squad or Rifle Platoon, but the Rifle Company had an MG Platoon with six M1919s that could be swapped for six M1917s as the situation required.

Reading through various USMC unit diaries they mostly state their Assault personnel, who handled the flamethrowers and demolition duties as described, were taken from the Rifle Squads or the small 5% 'overage' Marine units tended to begin assault operations with. The Assault Platoons weren't fully funded in manpower terms until the G-Series organisation of May 1945, but I've not seen one Marine report from Okinawa that says they were using G-Series, but plenty referring to slightly modified F-Series.

Back on the topic, perhaps the term 'split up' is a bit misleading. A Rifle Squad/Section of WW2 was frequently structured to provide its own fire and movement elements when necessary, so it could do two things at once without the need for outside support. It was still though operating as a whole, and as mentioned within voice and visual range when deployed for both fire and movement.

When its parent Platoon performed fire and movement it would likely have one or more Squad providing fire as a whole to cover the advance of one or more Squad, and those Squads moving would not necessarily be demonstrating their own fire and movement tactics. If No.1 Section is providing a solid base of fire then No.2 Section just needs to get from A to B as fast as possible using the cover available.


Andy ONeill29 Mar 2018 5:44 a.m. PST

A section wasn't supposed to all sit in one clump. "Stacking" is much more recent.
Clearing a house was something one or two men would do.
A couple of guys would dash up and chuck grenades in or that sort of stuff.
I think my point is that their leader is just over the road or he's got the grenade whilst his men are 10 yards away in the house across the road covering. They can see his signals and hear his orders.
He doesn't then hare off across the next road without his squad.
In gaming terms, on many groundscales the separation between figures enforced by bases is more than this sort of distance.

I grilled dad on this subject several times, because I knew he ought to know what was actually taught.
He gave two exceptions which are from jungle fighting training in the chindits.
They might be interesting.

River crossings were frequent and maybe the most dangerous thing they did.
Ambushes are what happen mostly in jungle combat.
You were in deep trouble if you were ambushed half way across a river.

On coming to a river, they detailed a section to cover the rear.
Most of a platoon was to provide cover from the near bank. One man crossed and would check out the far side. If the Japs opened up then it was only the one bloke at huge risk and maybe they were less likely to see him.

The second is tail end Charlie.
They would leave a man behind with a bren after they crossed. This was in case the unit was being followed.

We're talking a chindit column or company here.
They would stay a while and then dash up to rejoin the unit. Announcing themselves loudly as they approached.

In Jack Lindo's book "Dingle to Delhi" ( Dad was also from the Dingle in Liverpool ) he describes when he was tail end Charlie.
As I mentioned, they did a lot of river crossings. These were mostly tense but with no action.
Jack was left covering one such river.
He waited rather bored and wishing he was back with the others.
Slowly, he became aware that there was movement on the far bank.
Uh oh.
A couple of japs emerged and started wading.
He shot them up and sprayed the far bank with the rest of his mag before making a run for it.
( The expectation was to slow enemy and raise the alarm rather than sell oneself dearly ).
He ran into the main column with a number of japs still chasing him.
Rather rashly as it turned out.

I found it interesting that the Japanese seemed to demonstrate rather poor tactics.
Not quite the masters of jungle warfare that some made them out to be.

Andy ONeill29 Mar 2018 5:58 a.m. PST

The way I cover spltting a squad in sg2ww2 might be of interest. It may be from sg2 actually, I often forget which bits I invented and which are in the original.

You can split a gruppe or support sub section off. They must have specific orders about when they or the other half are to rejoin and this must be for a specific purpose.
A squad gets 2 actions.
When it splits it still has 2 actions to share between the two parts.
This makes the splitting rather unattractive in 99% of situations.
Your view of "reality" might of course be different.

Legion 429 Mar 2018 6:01 a.m. PST

Some pretty good replies ! Covered it pretty well, generally !

saltflats192929 Mar 2018 6:53 p.m. PST

Thanks for all your input!

jowady29 Mar 2018 7:02 p.m. PST

I wonder if a very typical action in Western Europe with the Allies was when you take fire, hunker down and wait for the artillery. There is no need to risk causalities performing a fire and maneuver across open terrain. That would sound very good to me but not much fun in a wargame.

Not much fun and also not what happened in real life. But hey, it fits the stereotype of the Germans as super soldiers and the Allies as bumbling untrained cowards so who am I to stand in your way.

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